The Cape Floral Region has been called the world's hottest hot-spot for plant diversity and…
The Cango Caves is a cultural and natural landmark in South Africa. The 20 million year-old Cango Caves system consists of a series of hidden chambers cut deep into a thick limestone rock layer. It is situated in the Swartberg Mountains, 30 kilometres north of Oudtshoorn.
Now it was time to take the long journey to Oudtshoorn, which is situated in the Klein Karoo in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Oudtshoorn is famous for being the Ostrich capital of the world. Oudtshoorn is surrounded by mountains on all sides! The Klein Karoo is an oasis in a fertile valley surrounded by the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountain ranges. Every road leading into Oudtshoorn follows a gloriously picturesque pass, all of which present travellers with a stunningly scenic drive through this unspoilt area of natural beauty.
Along our route, we climbed the Tradouw Pass (which means Women’s Path in the old Khoi language) which is a 16-kilometre drive through an altitude range of 219 meters through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery. We also passed through the town of Ladismith, stopping at the factory shop of Parmalat Dairy to buy some cheese. The blue cheese we ate neat, as we drove out of the town.
After a long drive, we pulled into a destination – the Old Mill Lodge – where we were shown our luxury tent up on the hill. By now we were exhausted, so we settled down with a bottle of red wine and a cheese sandwich for the evening. It was a grey and chilly evening, so we were happy to find that we had a heated blanket on our bed.
One of the reasons I had brought us to Oudtshoorn was to visit the Cango Caves, the biggest show cave system in Africa and the country’s oldest tourist attraction. The Cango Caves is a cultural and natural landmark in South Africa. The 20-million-year-old Cango Caves system consists of a series of hidden chambers cut deep into a thick limestone rock layer. It is situated in the Swartberg Mountains, 30 kilometres north of Oudtshoorn. The formations are unique: they would not have normally formed in this area and are a result of faulting. It was originally thought to be only about 1km long, but the caves have been discovered to extend naturally for well over 5km – however, it could be even longer, larger and more mysterious than current estimates. You can visit approximately one-quarter of the entire 5km system of interlinking tunnels. The rest is closed for conservation purposes.
We arrived just in time for the ten o’clock tour and joined a large group. Whilst this is described as an ‘easy’ walking tour (compared to the adventure tour which requires crawling through tiny spaces) there were a lot of stairs, which was a bit of a challenge to some folks in the group – meant we ended up moving along very slowly.
As we entered the caves, we were greeted by an instant rush of warm air and humidity. Most caves we have visited are usually chilly – this is not the case for Cango.
From the entrance, a flight of stairs us down to the huge Van Zyl’s Hall, an amazing cave that’s 107m long, 54m at its widest and up to 17m in height. There are some incredible formations including the 10m high Cleopatra’s Needle (estimated to be about 150 000 years old), the Organ Pipes, the Ballerina and the Frozen Waterfall. Our guide gave us an explanation of the formations found in the cave system and its history. At one time this chamber was used for concerts, but these were stopped in the 1970s for fear of damaging the formations in the chamber. He said the acoustics were amazing and then proceeded to give a rendition of the ‘click’ song made famous by Miriam Makeba. The real name of the song is Qongqothwane, which is too hard for most of us to pronounce and is a traditional song of the Xhosa people of South Africa. After finishing his song our guide (his western name was Eric) turned out the lights leaving us in the pitch dark. We finished up in Van Zyl’s Hall taking photos before moving on to the next chamber, Botha’s Hall, which is arguably the most spectacular of the chambers with some beautiful formations.
At the beginning of the tour, Eric explained the rules of the tour, one of which was not to touch the formations. For some reason people seemed not to realise what this meant – language was not the barrier for these morons – and many touched the formations as we passed through the cave’s corridors and chambers! This really upset Karen.
Down a few cave corridors, I swear it was getting cooler, yep, not only that but stuffy and humid too. Finally, we reached the rainbow chamber, followed by the bridal chamber. The relaxed 60-minute tour ended at the drum room, where Eric gave us a stirring rendition of the South African National anthem. All we had to do now was retrace our steps back to the entrance.
We returned to the Old Mill and our tent for a snooze and a sandwich.
After our rest, we decided to head into Oudtshoorn itself to see what the town had to offer. Basically, not much. We did find a rather nice coffee shop where we supped on a cappuccino and munched in a tasty pie and cake, before heading into the main shopping area to pick up some essentials. There was not a lot to see of interest together with the interruption of a load-shedding made us decide to head back to the Old Mill, where we checked out the pool that was located just below our tent. It was on the cold side, but it was nice to cool down on a hot afternoon.
About Cango Caves
Cango Caves is located in the Precambrian limestones. This is at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn. This region is found in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The cave is known as one of the country’s finest, best-known, and most popular tourist caves. This cave tunnel system is the most visited hub and every year this attracts many visitors from overseas.
The kind of paintings and artefacts found in the cave show the caves were in use throughout prehistory. The extensive system of tunnels and chambers in the cave run for over 4 km. Only about a quarter of the cave is open to visitors. Cango caves have inbuilt vast halls of towering stalagmite formations. These are named as ‘the bridal couple’, ‘glass flower fantasy’, ‘weird cango candle’ and ‘the hanging shawl’.
|Location:||Cango Valley, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa|
|Telephone:||+27 (0)82 303 0029|
Heritage tour:Adults: R 170.00 Children: R 120.00 Adventure tour: Adults: R 240.00 Children: R 170.00
The HERITAGE TOUR depart on the hour every hour daily from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Best time to visit Oudtshoorn
South Africa’s winter and summer seasons are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere; June to August is the coldest period while December, January, and February are characterized by hot weather, little wind, and blue skies. Summer is therefore the best time to visit if you plan on hiking or enjoying the beach. However, winter offers the best underwater visibility and is therefore the optimum time for shark diving. Additionally, while sharks can be seen all year round, June to September offers the highest chance of great white sightings. May to December is whale migration season.
Where to stay near Cango Caves
1. OLD MILL LODGE
This 4-star guest lodge is situated on the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains and is home to a working ostrich farm.
Old Mill Lodge offers air-conditioned rooms, some of which features a balcony overlooking the garden, river and mountain.
Freshly-prepared meals can be savoured in Old Mill Lodge’s restaurant, offering picturesque views of Grobelaars River.
A range of activities are featured at Old Mill Lodge, Working Ostrich Farm & Restaurant, Oudtshoorn including hiking, fishing and bird watching. There are 3 swimming pools, a trampoline, zipline, bunny and pony park, as well as boats on the dam.
2. BUFFELS DRIFT GAME LODGE
Buffelsdrift Lodge offers free-standing tents with views of the Klein Karoo’s Swartberg Mountains and a wildlife watering hole. Activities include game drives, night drives, meerkat safaris, elephant excursions, lion feeding experience, and free-roaming cheetah experience.
A private outdoor shower, en-suite bathroom and minibar are featured in each air-conditioned, luxury tent. Some tents have a wooden deck set right by the water’s edge.
An outdoor pool overlooks the waterhole. Rhinos, giraffes and hippos may be seen, and within a 10-minute drive are an ostrich farm and Cango Caves. This malaria-free game reserve has free WiFi in public areas.
Situated at the waterside is one of the best a La Carté restaurants in the Southern Cape, where award-winning wines and Karoo cuisine made from fresh, local produce is served. Alongside the restaurant is a shaded deck from which spectacular views of the Swartberg mountains can be enjoyed and even hippos, Elephants, other wildlife, and bird species that visit the waterhole frequently can be spotted.
3. MILE BED & BREAKFAST GUEST HOUSE
Miles B&B Guest House offers comfortable home-from-home accommodation with a cosy ambiance, and a perfect setting for those who wish to be within the hub of Oudtshoorn, but with the sensation of tranquil surroundings in the countryside. The emphasis on comfort and service ensures it to be a memorable place to stay.Guests can look forward to a relaxed and peaceful stay in a choice of four rooms decorated in a traditional South African style. Offering 3 different room types of which all are in the main house and open out onto the balcony.